Brookfield Zoo chief urges protest of proposed tax

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By BOB UPHUES

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Stuart Strahl, president of the Chicago Zoological Society that operates Brookfield Zoo, is calling on Brookfield residents who are zoo members to protest a proposal for a new tax. The tax could add charges to everything from zoo memberships to parking, dolphin shows, special events and rides on the carousel.

In an e-mail sent today and marked "urgent," Strahl urged members to contact village board members (whose home and cellphone numbers are included) and attend Monday's village board meeting to voice opposition to the proposal.

"The Chicago Zoological Society strongly opposes this tax because it will negatively impact not only you, our member, but the society's ability to continue to judiciously operate Brookfield Zoo and its programs," Strahl said in the e-mail.

Sondra Katzen, media relations manager for the Chicago Zoological Society, said zoo officials and its attorneys are reviewing the proposed ordinance, which is on Monday night's Committee of the Whole agenda.

Municipalities can impose a so-called "amusement tax" - up to 3 percent of gross revenues - under Illinois law. However, the statute does not define "amusements" specifically.

And while Brookfield's proposed ordinance does not specifically target Brookfield Zoo, the language includes just about every element of the zoo's operation. It seeks to assess a charge on ticket sales, membership fees, the rental of equipment for entertainment purposes, parking and food among other things. It also includes "amusement rides" and other exhibitions, including zoos.

According to a memo to village trustees included in the board packet for Monday's meeting, which is available on the village of Brookfield's Web site, such a tax could bring in "a minimum of $500,000" to the village.

But such a tax would have a negative impact on the zoo's operation and on its members and visitors, according to Strahl.

"If allowed to pass, this amusement tax would add an extra financial burden to families already challenged during these tough economic times that come to the zoo for a family-centered, educational experience," Strahl wrote. "The tax would likely cause a decline in attendance and membership levels, critical income sources needed to operate Brookfield Zoo, maintain our renowned animal welfare, conservation and educational programs."

Strahl also warned that the tax could mean dwindling attendance.

"A decline in attendance would also affect our role as a valuable economic engine for our region," Strahl wrote. "As a top cultural attraction in the state of Illinois, Brookfield Zoo generates $150 million in economic activity every year while supporting 2,000 jobs, with 2.2 million annual guests and 108,000 member households."

The amusement tax is one of several ideas the Brookfield village board is considering to boost operating revenues.

Other ideas on the table are a restaurant tax, which could add $100,000 to village coffers; a hotel and motel tax, which could add about $50,000 annually; an increase in water rates, which could raise as much as $160,000, and garbage fees; and increasing business and liquor licenses.

Also still on the table are potential tax hikes which would require a village-wide referendum. Trustees have talked about asking residents for a new tax for special recreation to fund its participation in the SEASPAR program. They could also ask for a general property tax increase to help fund village services, which have been cut in the past year due to falling revenues.

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